As I write this today, I’m sitting at home on the couch beside my four year old daughter. We’re wrapping up a pretty fun day for her, and it all started this morning at preschool. But just as we were leaving school, she almost had a little meltdown. Thankfully I saw it coming and managed to avert it. I’d like to share the story with you to help in any way I can.
Today was my daughter’s “Special Day” at school. They try to do these as close to the child’s birthday as possible, but obviously some kids have birthdays during the summer months, so the school holds a “special day” for each child instead of a birthday celebration. Same thing – and just as cute.
As part of the special day a parent can attend the last hour of class. I got to be that parent so I spent an hour with my daughter’s class. We played games and I read them a book about a Princess (yeah, my daughter planned this in advance and brought the book from home!)
It was a total blast and my daughter had been looking forward to this event for several weeks. Her teachers told me that she reminded them I was coming almost every day for the last two weeks.
When I showed up her face just beamed with excitement and pride. So did mine, to be honest. I mean – how can you not reciprocate that kind of excitement on your child’s face?
When the hour was over, we both put on our coats and started walking out the door. I was holding my daughter’s hand. Just as I went to take my first step down towards ground level, my daughter hesitated. She pulled back on my hand, not wanting to leave.
I looked down at her and noticed the beginnings of a few tears. So I sat down on the stairs to be at her eye level. It wasn’t long before I realized exactly why she was holding back. She just didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want her special day to be over. She had been looking forward to it for so long and it seemed to end too quickly for her liking. That’s why when we headed to the stairs she suddenly had this flood of emotions.
In this scenario a lot of parents would try to use logic with their child. Parents will often say something like, “Well, Lizzie – you had a very fun day at school and now it’s time to come home”. This rarely works because logic and emotion are like oil and water. They just don’t mix.
Instead you need to remember to deal with the emotional state directly. My daughter was suddenly sad that her special day seemed like it was over. My solution to the problem was to reframe it altogether. I’ve written about reframing before, but let me remind you what it is again.
One potential definition of “reframing” is to help someone see a problem in a different light such that it is no longer perceived as problem. Once you reframe the “problem”, the negative emotional charge dissipates instantly.
All I did was to say to my daughter, “Liz – your school day is over but your special day is not. We get to take your special day home with us and we can read more books and play more games together at home”.
I kid you not – this completely changed her state of mind. You see, school days end 5 times per week. She’s totally used to that. So I used that knowledge to my (and her) advantage. In saying what I said to her, I removed the conceptual link between her special day and the physical location of her preschool. I turned the special day into some sort of “thing” that we get to take home with us.
We walked home together, hand in hand, laughing and talking about the fun time we had and looking forward to the rest of the day. When we got home, Liz was super excited to tell her mommy about her day.
I hope this little story demonstrates to you how easy it can be to change the emotional state of a child through words. And if you’re interested in learning more about this I encourage you to check out my “Talking to Toddlers” audio course.